It happened yesterday morning. I was on my way to meeting Appa and Minette to pick a Christmas tree in that parking lot near St Paul Church. Just as I drove past the church I caught a glimpse of two angels exiting it and turning onto the sidewalk.
I could not see their faces but I could see they were exhilarated, probably because of what had just happened inside the church, maybe because of the bright brisk morning too. I could see that in the lightness of their gait and in the warmth of their embrace. It was a joyful crystalline sliver of time.
Angels in America… I remember watching Mike Nichols’ miniseries based on Tony Kushner’s play not long after moving to New York in the 2000s. The story, set in New York at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, revolves around six main characters, one of which is visited by an angel played by a luminous Emma Thompson. I remember how powerful this supernatural dimension felt as one of the creative ways Kushner chose to explore personal itineraries in the context of mid-1980s American society.
I usually don’t believe in angels. But when they appear as unexpectedly and cinematically as yesterday that seems to me a good reason to suspend my disbelief, if only for that moment. It turns out you sometimes do this in real life, not only with fiction. It turns out letting this happen might bring some otherwise hidden meaning.
I wonder about these angels I saw. It occurred to me they might be the real “better angels of our nature” President Lincoln appealed to nearly 160 years ago. I wonder what angels make of today’s America. A piece of their benevolent, if somewhat distant, wisdom could only be welcome at this juncture.
We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.
Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address – March 4, 1861
2 Replies to “Angels in America”
I know the mother and daughter, Robin and Story, pictured here. They are visual artist and musician respectively. I met them through Parade the Circle years ago and see them at the outdoor pool from time to time. They’ve been doing silent ritual ‘performance’ at St Paul’s since the pandemic began. For me, the angels in America are artists. And to be an artist even in everyday life I think involves a strong current of paying attention to our experience as humans in the world. I don’t say this lightly, because I think it’s really easy to be distracted from this simplicity. When I plug my ears and eyes into media, for instance, I’m relinquishing some of that deep attentiveness that feeds imagination. Your photo reminds me that where it’s good to stay informed about our world, there’s a limit to this kind of information’s usefulness without a balance. Angels around me take the time to nourish the best in themselves and the world, including the people they love. Is this divinity? Yes, I think it is.
Such a beautifully written, thoughtful piece – and a lovely sentiment to begin the week with. Thank you, Marianne.